Hayden basketall teams gear up for home stand

District tournament basketball games start at 6 and 7:30 p.m. today in Hayden

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— By the numbers, today’s district tournament basketball game should be an easy one for the Hayden High School boys team.

The Tigers, 16-3 and playing at 7:30 p.m. today at home against Meeker, thrashed the Cowboys and nearly everyone else still alive in district play this season. Meeker entered as the No. 5 seed in the seven-team tournament and Hayden as No. 1. The Tigers won both matchups this season by double digits.

Those were two of the first games of the season, however, and when Hayden squares off against Meeker, it expects to find a wholly different squad.

“I don’t know that they do that much different, but they just do a lot of things a lot better,” Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. “They’re a good, solid, well-coached club, and they’ve done a lot of growing up over the year.”

Four teams remain in both brackets as the Hayden boys and girls begin play tonight in the semifinal round of the district tournament. The girls play Rangely at 6 p.m.

No teams still competing will be eliminated. Rather, they are playing at this point for seeding in next weekend’s regional tournaments.

The Hayden boys team beat Meeker in last year’s district championship to earn a No. 1 seed in its regional. That victory paved the way for the team’s trip to the state tournament in Pueblo.

Earning that top regional seed again could be key to a repeat trip to state.

“Everyone is going someplace next weekend, but obviously, the better seed you have, the smoother potential road you get to Pueblo for state,” Luppes said. “We’re going in as the No. 1 seed, and it’s our goal to come out as the No. 1 seed.

“If we come out and play our game, that’s a strong possibility for us.”

Girls hope to reverse trend

The Hayden girls also might be in line for a big district tournament as they enter as one of the favorites for the third consecutive year.

Regular-season league champ and defending state title holder Paonia looms on the other side of the bracket and likely will be there Saturday in this year’s district championship game for what could be an epic clash.

The Tigers haven’t won a semifinal round game in the district tournament in coach Eric Hamilton’s two-year tenure — a streak that even included the 2009 team that finished third in the state. Both that team and last year’s lost to Rangely in district semifinal games. Reversing that trend is the team’s primary mission this weekend, Hamilton said.

Paonia? The 15-3 Tigers are asking, Paonia who?

“We haven’t even talked about Saturday,” Hamilton said. “We really have focused the entire week on Rangely. This game is huge for us.”

The Tigers won perhaps their biggest game of the regular season when they won at Rangely late last month, knocking off the Panthers, 48-39, thanks to a huge third quarter in which Hayden managed to crack Rangely’s challenging full-court pressure.

To pull off another win in the series, Hamilton said he plans to change his lineup.

“We needed to mix it up a little bit. Something wasn’t clicking,” he said. “We tried all kinds of rotations this week in practice, and we found our perfect mix. We’ll use everybody. We’re deep, and we’ll really put the pressure on.”

— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com

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